Woodworking Class
Lesson 6: Wood Shaping
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Introduction: Wood Shaping

Of course not all woodworking involves perfect cuts and power tools. A great attribute of wood is that it's an easy medium to work with and can be tooled easily by hand, taking shape in almost any way you can image. Wood carving is not quick, but can be very relaxing. A good way to think of wood carving is in stages, or layers. You'll start with roughing out a very general shape, then progressively step through stages to refine the shape into something more detailed.


Shaping wood doesn't require much in the way of tools, mostly a method of cutting your stock down to size, some finer instruments to make details, and a method to smooth it all out after shaping.

To cut the basic shape of your wood stock a pull saw or a jigsaw are great for removing excess material.

Pull Saw


To shape the wood and give it a smoother appearance a 4-way rasp is vital, as is an assortment of sandpaper.

4-way rasp


A 4-way rasp has a flat side and a half-round side, each end will have a coarse and fine. the half-round side is great for contoured surfaces, and the dual roughness provides a great combination of removing or smoothing material.

Wood Selection

Any wood can be carved and shaped by hand, however some types are easier to work with than others (especially when starting out).

Wood hardness is measured by the Janka scale, which is how resistant wood is to a denting test. While the test is fun to try on your own the real take away is to know that different wood can have different densities and something to keep in mind when selecting wood to shape.

Luckily there's a plentiful supply of soft wood that's perfect for shaping in every hardware store: pine. Almost all wood framing studs in North America are either spruce, pine, or fir (SPF). SPF framing studs are inexpensive, and perfect for hand shaping. Outside of the hardware store you can find pine (or other softer wood) from all sorts of places like old dressers, desks, or project boards. An easy test to see how soft wood is, try pressing your fingernail into the wood and make a dent - if your nail sinks into the wood easy and makes a mark then it's probably easy to shape.

Clamp Your Work

Hand shaping is very relaxing, but will become frustrating quickly if you don't have your work piece clamped down.

Use care when clamping your work, since clamping directly to soft wood would cause an indent in your piece. Use a sacrificial piece of wood was put between the clamps and the blank which distributes the load from the clamps across the wood and doesn't leave indents in the blank.

Rough Shaping With Rasp - Flat Side

A 4-way rasp has a flat side with coarse surface end and a fine surface end, and a convex curved side with rough and fine surface on the other.

For shaping on straight areas I use the flat side and start with the rough surface. The rough surface will remove more material but leave a very rough finish. This is perfect for getting the rough shape right.

Hold the rasp firmly in both hands with the rough surface over the wood, and then make a drawing motion diagonally to the wood.

Take time to make as many drawing motions to get the shape you desire. It makes more sense to do lighter passes and remove less material than to try and remove lots of material and go fast. Hand shaping takes time, but the results are worth it.

Rough Shaping With Rasp - Curved Side

The 4-way rasp has a curved side to get into areas where there's geometry that won't allow you to use the flat side. There is a rough end and a fine end to the rasp, depending on how much material you want to remove and how you want the finish to look.

In this serving spoon example the dish of the spoon head needs to have an indentation carved. To achieve this the wood was fist clamped securely, and then the curved rough end of the rasp was drawn over the deepest area of the indentation to start the gentle curve needed to dish the wood - this part can take a while as there's a lot of material to be removed to make the dishing shape.

Here's results after about 20 minutes. Take the time with the rough side to get the shape you want before moving onto the fine side and cleaning up the rough surface.

Sanding Smooth

Using the fine end of the rasp the head shape can be smoothed out, removing the tooling left from the coarse end of the rasp and filing down any rough or ragged edges. After learning about sanding we're ready to start sanding the rough shape smooth.

After some time with the fine end of the rasp the surface can be smoothed out more with coarse grit sandpaper, the grit of the sandpaper should be finer than the rasp - most fine rasps are equivalent to about 60-80 grit, so moving to 100 grit is a good choice.

Move your way up the sandpaper from 100 grit to 200 grit to smooth out the surface of your hand carving.

Quiz - Wood Shaping

{"id": "quiz-1","question": "The wood hardness scale is called the Jenga Scale","answers": [{"title": "True","correct": false},{"title": "False","correct": true}],"correctNotice": "Correct! It's called the Janka Scale.","incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"}
{"id": "quiz-2","question": "Wood shaping can only be completed with power tools","answers": [{"title": "True","correct": false},{"title": "False","correct": true}],"correctNotice": "Correct! Shaping wood by hand is far more common, and gives every piece a unique look.","incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"}

Hand carving is an art and takes practice and patience to get good results. There's a charm that comes from hand carved items, so never discount the aesthetic, sometimes perfection is not desired!

On the other end of the spectrum from hand carving is making curved edges and a power router. We'll learn all about this versatile tool in the next lesson.